The legislation, which passed 290-137, will be followed by a vote on an additional provision that would grant rail workers seven paid sick days.
The move puts the country one step closer to avoiding a rail strike on Dec. 9, which could have devastating effects on the economy. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will likely receive a vote before the weekend.
President Joe Biden stepped in to broker a deal between the unions and several railways, resulting in a 24% pay increase and safety provisions but lacking a key demand for paid sick leave. Several unions rejected the deal after putting it to a vote from their members, paving the way for Congress to step in to force the unions to accept the deal or extend the cooling-off period.
Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said their top concern was averting a strike, which would cause serious harm to vital industries that rely on the railroads for shipping, even as they expressed sympathy for the unions.
“Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement Wednesday. “Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down. My economic advisors report that as many as 765,000 Americans — many union workers themselves — could be put out of work in the first two weeks alone. Communities could lose access to chemicals necessary to ensure clean drinking water. Farms and ranches across the country could be unable to feed their livestock.”
Following progressive opposition from within her caucus, Pelosi added a second vote for the seven days of sick leave on Tuesday night.